Where to Stay in Kyoto First Time: 7 Best Areas

The best areas to stay in Kyoto for first-timers are the neighborhoods of Downtown Kyoto, Gion and Southern Higashiyama, Kyoto Station, Central Kyoto, Northern Higashiyama, Arashiyama, and Kibune. In this guide, we will be looking at where to stay in Kyoto for the first time, for nightlife, shopping, family, and best ryokan.

Downtown Kyoto is the best place to stay in Kyoto for the first time due to its prime location and the widest choice in accommodations. Booking hotel in this area, you will be in the heart of action, within walking distance to the famous tourists attractions in Gion, Higashiyama, and well-connected transportation. It also offers the best nightlife and best tourist amenities including restaurants, bars, and shops.

You can find all types of accommodation in Kyoto from budget guesthouses, traditional Japanese style inns (ryokan), B&Bs, vacation rentals, traditional townhouses (machiya) to luxury international hotels. 

The hotels in Kyoto can get fully sold out far in advance for a busy season such as the cherry blossom season from late March to mid-April and the autumn foliage season in November. Be sure to Book well in advance at least 4 to 5 months ahead during peak seasons.

Kyoto and Osaka are the two most popular places to stay in southern part of Japan. It is better to stay in Kyoto if you want an authentic traditional Japanese experience. It is better to stay in Osaka if you want more shopping and food. If hotels in Kyoto are fully booked, you can stay in Osaka, which is only less than one hour by train from Kyoto.

💖 Best Area for first-timers:Downtown Kyoto
💎 Best luxury hotel:Hotel Granvia Kyoto
🏨 Best mid-range hotel:Mitsui Garden Hotel Kyoto Shijo
💰 Best budget hotel:Hotel Resol Kyoto Kawaramachi Sanjo

Where To Stay in Kyoto: 7 Best Areas to Stay in Kyoto

1. Downtown Kyoto, where to stay in Kyoto for first-time tourists

Downtown Kyoto is the best area to stay in Kyoto for first time tourists. Downtown has a central location, within walking distance to tourist attractions, close to restaurants, bars, shops, and well-connected public transport.

Located on the west bank of Kamo River, Downtown Kyoto includes the historic Ponto-Cho Geisha neighborhood and the shopping area of Shijo. Downtown is a small square and easy to explore on foot, and it has many covered arcades that make it the best places to explore on a rainy day.

Downtown Kyoto provides excellent public transport with two main subway lines and two train lines. It offers easy access to the rest of the city.

Downtown is home to Nishiki Market (Kyoto’s Kitchen). The traditional food market, Nishiki Market, is a great place for foodies to sample the variety of culinary delights that Kyoto is famous for, like dried seafood, sushi, Japanese sweets, and pickles.

For a perfect food trip on a rainy day, to get a real insight into a variety of Japanese cuisine, you can also visit the Daimaru basement food floor and Takashimaya basement food floor

Running parallel with Nishiki Market is the Shijo Shopping Strip. Shijo Avenue is one of the most modern shopping districts in Kyoto that runs through the heart of the city from East to West. You can also find everything here from traditional Japanese crafts, Kyoto-style clothing (Kimono), to high-end brands,  cafes, fast food and Japanese restaurants.

The busiest part of the street is the area between Karasuma-dori and Higashioji-dori. There are high density of shops around Kawaramachi-dori and Karasuma-dori where you find  boutique shopping buildings Fujii Daimaru and Marui, and shopping malls like Daimaru Department Store and Takashimaya Department Store.

If you want more shopping, you can head to the two popular covered shopping arcades in Kyoto, Teramachi Kyogoku Shopping Arcade and Shinkyogoku Shopping streets.

If you want to see Geisha head to the Pontocho Alley, a traditional nightlife area in Kyoto. The  narrow atmospheric alley Pontocho Alley is located between Sanjo-dori and Shijo-dori, on the west bank of Kamo-gawa River.  

If you’re a fan of Japanese comics, you must visit the Kyoto International Manga Museum. It’s the best manga museum in the entire Japan with more than 300 000 Manga comic books.

The hotels in Downtown can be a little expensive due to its prime location but it’s worth it to be in the middle of the city. The best places to stay in Downtown Kyoto are the areas near the train station like Kawaramachi Station (Hankyu Line), Gion Shijo Station (Keihan Line), and Sanjo Station (Keihan Line). 

You can easily find all types of accommodations downtown from cheap guesthouses, traditional Japanese inns ryokans, to vacation rentals, and luxury hotels. Some of the best hotels in Downtown Kyoto are the Nishiyama Ryokan and Royal Park Hotel Sanjo.

Best places to stay in Kyoto downtown:


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2. Gion and Southern Higashiyama, for sightseeing and Japanese culture

Gion is a  traditional entertainment and famous Geisha district (geiko district) right in the middle of the historical district Southern Higashiyama. Southern Higashiyama is one of the best areas to stay in Kyoto for sightseeing.

Higashiyama means “eastern mountain”. It’s located between the Higashiyama mountain range and the Kamo River, and is bounded by the Sanjo-dori street in the north, and the Shichijo-dori street in the south. 

Gion stretches from Kamo-gawa River in the west to Yasaka-jinja Shrine in the east. It is packed with old wooden shops, restaurants, bars, and traditional teahouses. Gion is  especially atmospheric in the early evening when Japanese lanterns are lit up and apprentice geisha (maiko) prepare to start their work.

You also have plenty of things to do in Gion and Southern Higashiyama during day time with historical sites, shrines, temples, parks, and Zen gardens.

You can start to explore the area with one of the most famous temples in Kyoto, Kiyomizu-dera Temple. It is one of the Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto by the UNESCO World Heritage site. It’s more beautiful in March and April with cherry blossoms and November autumn leaves.

Kiyomizudera is a huge temple, some highlights you can visit include the impressive two-story main entrance gate Nio-mon, west gate of Kiyomizu-dera Temple Sai-mon, Zuigodo Hall, the main hall Hondo with its Kiyomizu Stage, Jishu Shrine, Otowa Waterfall, Okuno-in hall, and the Koyasu Pagoda At Taisanji Temple.

Located near the Kiyomizudera Temple are the two pedestrian-streets of Ninenzaka and Sannenzaka.   The historical stone paved streets are filled with traditional tea houses, shops, restaurants, ryokan inns. 

Ninen-zaka and Sannen-zaka are also surrounded by numerous famous landmarks such as Ishibe-kōji, Yasaka Shrine, Maruyama Park, Yasaka-no-to Pagoda, and Kodaiji Zen Temple.

Yasaka Shrine is also known as Gion Shrine, home to Gion Festival (Gion Matsuri) celebrations in July. It’s a popular spot for cherry blossom viewing and picnic in spring.

Kennen-ji temple is the oldest Zen Buddhist  temple in Kyoto belonging to the Zen sect. Here you will find a tea house, monuments, gardens, and different halls.

Ishibei-koji Lane is the most atmospheric pedestrian-only walkway in Kyoto where you find small traditional wooden houses and shops. 

Ishibei-koji Lane intersects with Nene-no-Michi Lane. Nene-no-Michi Lane (Path of Nene) was found by Nene – widow of the warlord Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and named after her. This flagstone walkway is particularly scenic and crowded in spring when the cherry trees are in blossom.

In the heart of Goin is the Shirakawa area. The Shirakawa area is on the quiet side of Gion. It lies along the Shirakawa canal and is surrounded by willow trees, sakura cherry trees, high-class restaurants, inns, teahouses, and Tatsumi Daimyōjin that offer attractive riverside dining and Kyoto cuisine.  

Hanami-Koji area is where you find the Gion Kobu Kaburenjo theater (Gion Corner) to watch cultural shows about Japanese arts like tea ceremony, dances performed by real maiko, ikebana flower arranging, and bunraku puppet theater.

If you love history, Kyoto National Museum is a must-see. It is a major art museum in Japan and one of the four national museums of the country.

Stay in Gion if you want to have the best chance to spot a geisha, you want plenty of choices in traditional Japanese accommodation in ryokans and machiyas.

Best places to stay in Gion and Southern Higashiyama:


3. Kyoto Station and Shimogyo Area, for day trip to Osaka

Kyoto Station is the main transport hub of the city, if you want convenient public transport to travel to other parts of Japan and don’t mind commuting to see the sights, Kyoto station is the best area to stay in Kyoto for you.

Kyoto Station is the stop of the Haruka airport express train and shinkansen bullet train. If you plan to do day trips to Osaka, Himeji Castle, Fushimi Inari shrine, and Nara.

Kyoto Station is not a sightseeing destination, the main activity here is shopping, and visiting some temples and museums nearby.

The Kyoto Station Building is filled with shops and restaurants. There are several temples near the station like Higashi-Hongan-ji Temple, Nishi-Hongan-ji Temple, To-ji Temple. If you like museums there are one of the best railway museums Kyoto Railway Museum, and a small Kyocera Museum of Art.

Located just across the Kyoto station is the Kyoto Tower. Kyoto Tower is 131 meters tall, the tallest structure in Kyoto.

Best places to stay in Kyoto Station:


4. Central Kyoto, where to stay in Kyoto on budget

Central Kyoto is home to the most popular tourist attractions of Kyoto, the Imperial Palace (Kyoto Gosho) and Nijo Castle. It also offers easy access to the Kyoto Station with the Karasuma subway line.

Nijo Castle is one of the most impressive sights in Kyoto. Nijo Castle was built in 1603 as the residence of the first shogun of the Edo Period, Tokugawa Ieyasu. 

You will first see the Chinese-style gate Karamon and enjoy the attractive wood carvings, covered in beautiful detailing. It’s a popular photo spot with tourists.

Ninomaru Palace was the residence and office of the shogun when he visited Kyoto. It has 5 buildings, connected with each other by corridors. The palace rooms are tatami mat covered and feature finely decorated ceilings and attractively painted sliding doors.

Located outside the Ninomaru Palace is the Ninomaru Garden. It is a traditional Japanese garden with a large pond, and was designed by Kobori Enshū, famous landscape architect and tea master.

The Honmaru Palace was designed similar to the Ninomaru Palace, but it was destroyed after the fire in 1788. After the fall of the shogunate, the current building was transferred from the Kyoto Imperial Palace.

Inside the Nijo Castle, you will see the Seiryū-en garden. It’s a half Western, half Japanese, style garden built in 1965 for tea ceremonies.

Nijo Castle is surrounded by trees and flowers such as Camellia (Tsubaki), Japanese Plum (Ume), Spike Winter Hazel (Tosamizuki), Cherry Blossoms (Sakura), maple, ginkgo. Nijo Castle is a popular place when it’s the spring cherry blossom season.

Kyoto Imperial Palace (Gosho ) is the official residence of the Emperor in Kyoto. It is situated in the large Kyoto Imperial Park (Kyoto Gyoen) where you can find the Sento Imperial Palace, Kaninnomiya Mansion, and Konoe Pond. The most beautiful time is when cherry blossoms bloom in late March, early April.

Other attractions in Central Kyoto include the Daitoku-ji, Kyoto Botanical Gardens, Funaoka Onsen, Kamo-gawa Riverside, and Kamigamo-jinja Shrine Handicraft Market.

Best places to stay in Central Kyoto:


5. Northern Higashiyama, where to stay in Kyoto for museums

Northern Higashiyama is a quiet area with breathtaking shrines, old temples, Japanese Zen gardens, and lots of greenery. It has many sights and is less crowded than its neighbor Southern Higashiyama.

The Northern Higashiyama is limited by the Kamo-gawa River to the west, Sanjo-dori to the south, Shugakuin to the north. You will find the museum district( Okazaki-koen) in the central area and temples along the base of the Northern Mountains.

Okazaki-koen is the museum district of Kyoto. The Museum of Modern Art,  the Kyoto Municipal Museum of Art, and Kyoto Museum of Traditional Crafts are the most popular museums. 

The Path of Philosophy (Tetsugaku-no-Michi) is a pedestrian stone path along a Lake Biwa Canal, and lined with hundreds of cherry trees. It’s a popular hanami spot in spring time.

The path is a 30 minutes walk starting around Ginkaku-ji Temple (Silver Pavilion) and finishing in the district of Nanzenji at the Nanzen-Ji temple. You can also find shops, restaurants, cafes, temples, and shrines along the path. Honen-in Temple is the most famous temple in Kyoto.

The shinto shrine, Heian Shrine, holds the Jidai Festival each year in October. It is at its most beautiful in spring, the cherry blossom season. 

There are not many hotels in Northern Higashiyama, but you can easily find Japanese traditional style accommodations, Ryokan.

Best places to stay in Kyoto in Northern Higashiyama:


6. Arashiyama, where to stay in Kyoto for Bamboo Grove

Located in the far west of Kyoto on the foot of the Arashiyama Mountains, the beautiful suburb is not a popular area to stay in Kyoto for first time tourists. But if you want to stay close to nature, it’s good to stay a night or two.

Arashiyama is where you can see Bamboo Groves,  the iconic Togetsukyo Bridge, some wonderful temples, autumn fall foliage, and phenomenal cherry blossoms.

Arashiyama Bamboo Grove is one of the most incredible sights of Japan. The Bamboo Alley is one of the most photographed attractions in Kyoto along with the geisha(maiko) in Gion, the Golden Pavilion of Kinkakuji reflected in the water, and the tunnels of red torii gates at Fushimi Inari Shrine.

Located just outside the bamboo forest is the UNESCO World Heritage Site Tenryu-Ji temple. This sprawling Zen temple is one of the five major temples of Kyoto with a beautiful garden and fantastic mountain views.

The Jojako-ji Temple is a small temple built in the 16th century, famous for its autumn leaves. It has a small pagoda and is surrounded by greenery. 

The iconic 155-meter Togetsukyo Bridge across the Katsura River. Togetsukyo bridge with the main street of Arashiyama area is always busy with tourists from morning to evening.

Hozugawa River Boat Ride is a 16km long, two hours sightseeing by boat to explore the fabulous scenery of the Tanba-Kameoka, Arashiyama area. You can combine it with the Sagano Romantic Train Trip on the way back. 

Monkey Park Iwatayama, Okochi Sanso Villa, Okochi Sanso Garden, Nisonin Temple, Kameyama-koen Park, Tenzan-no-yu Onsen are some of the attractions that you can visit while in Arashiyama.

If you plan to stay in Arashiyama, you can try to stay in one of the very best ryokan Hoshinoya Kyoto and Arashiyama Benke.

Best places to stay in Kyoto in Arashiyama:


7. Kibune and Kurama, where to stay in Kyoto for nature lovers

The  tranquil rural villages of Kibune and Kurama are located in the north of Kyoto and are famous for hiking and onsen. It’s 30 minutes by train on the Eizan Line. If you’re looking for a romantic holiday, you can stay in this charming neighborhood for a night or two.

Kurama Onsen is the hot spring where you can sit in the outside tub which is surrounded by the forests. It’s a great place to relax after Kurama-dera Mountain Temple.

You can hike up or take a cable car to the Kurama-dera Mountain Temple on the shoulder of Mt. Kurama- the birthplace of reiki. It offers stunning views of the surrounding mountains. There’s a sandō path connecting it to the picturesque village of Kibune and Kifune Shrine.  

Yuki-jinja Shrine is a historic Shinto shrine on the grounds of Kurama-Dera temple. It is a famous Kurama Fire Festival on October 22 each year, one of the unique festivals of Kyoto.

Kifune-jinja Shrine (Kibune-jinja) is famous in the quaint Village of Kibune. The Main Hall with stone staircase lined with red wooden lanterns is a renowned sight often photographed by tourists in all seasons. If you are thirsty, you can drink sacred water (goshinsui) that flows from the mountain. 

If you are on your honeymoon, you must check out the stylish traditional inns, Ryokan Ugenta.

Best places to stay in Kyoto in Kibune and Kurama:


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Overall, Downtown Kyoto is the best area to stay in Kyoto for first-timers. With its central location, you can easily explore famous tourist attractions. There are also a wide range of accommodations options that suits all budget. Downtown is also home to Kyoto’s best nightlife, dining, and shopping.

By now you should know which neighborhood is best for you to stay in Kyoto. And you have a better idea of where to stay in Kyoto, it’s time to get booking your dream vacation and head off on your once-in-a-lifetime trip.

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